Verdant Pioneers excerpt


cover for Verdant Pioneers“Reya, call Dr. Silver to CnC.” Julian left the image of the asteroid impression in the column as he turned to Reya. “Tell her—quietly, I think—to bring any first contact experts she has with her.”

Reya considered. “If she even has any.”

Julian nodded wryly. “Yeah. I have no idea, either.” Something else occurred to him, and he stepped over to a station that handled communications within Verdant. “Lamont, I want you to put together a sat-wide broadcast on this. Explain what Makalu has found, and that CnC is presently deliberating our next move. Include the image, there,” he hooked his thumb at the column. “Keep it simple, and send it when it’s done. Oh… also, send a copy to Pani.”

“Yessir,” Lamont nodded.

Finished at that station, he returned to Pani’s com station. “Pani, I want you to send Lamont’s broadcast to the probe team, with orders to send a message probe to each freighter on assignment. Send the broadcast, with an additional message from you that all freighters are to continue with their assignments unless notified otherwise. As soon as it’s ready, please.”

“Understood,” Pani replied.

Not long after the broadcast had been prepared and sent throughout Verdant, Dr. Silver arrived in CnC, with one man in tow. They were both slightly out of breath, their eyes wide with anticipation… Julian guessed that they had heard the broadcast on the way up, and had increased their speed to get to CnC. Dr. Silver paused, tried to catch her breath, and said, “We saw the ‘cast on the way up. Tell me you’re kidding me! Are you kidding me?”

“We’re not kidding, Doctor,” Julian said, and watched her eyes widen even more… he was sure she hadn’t looked this excited, even when they’d first triggered the Verdant drive. He then looked to the other scientist, whom he didn’t know. “Is this your only first contact specialist?”

“Gillette’s not a first contact specialist,” Dr. Silver replied, glancing at the man next to her, then back to Julian. “You actually thought I had one?” When Julian wisely did not reply, she went on, “Dr. Gillette Myers is one of my best biologists, and he specializes in exotic and unusual bio-phenomenon.”

“At your service, Ceo,” Dr. Myers panted.

Dr. Silver added, “Best I could do on short notice.”

“It’s fine,” Julian said. “Come on, we’ll take a conference room. Reya, come on. Hera, you have the con.”

They moved to a conference room, where Julian played back the recording made by the crew of their conversation. Once the conversation was done, Julian put up various pieces of the asteroid data on the display column, then turned to Dr. Silver and Dr. Myers. “So, I’m looking for opinions, especially about the Makalu’s willingness to try to trace the asteroids back to their source.”

Dr. Myers looked around the room, and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know what’s involved in tracing the route backwards to the origin point, but I’d assume it isn’t a simple task. I mean, couldn’t the asteroids have been deflected by any gravitational source they passed?” Julian nodded in response to his question. “So, they could have made any number of course changes since they started out, and I don’t know how that freighter’s going to be able to figure that out.”

“As Captain Grand pointed out,” Reya said, “they can send probes ahead to scan the trail back. That would allow them to pinpoint any gravitational forces they come across, and recomputed the course against that. But it would be easier to lose the trail, the farther back you go.”

“Maybe more importantly,” Julian said, “is, should they go? What are they likely to find, in a best-case scenario? A planet of living plants, and maybe animals? Sentient beings? Or just an Earth-like pile of shattered rocks, and maybe easy geological pickings?”

Dr. Silver pointed at some of the data being displayed in the column. “Valerie’s readings, there, indicate they can’t provide a reliable age of the asteroid fragment. If we don’t know how old it is, who knows how long it’s been travelling? A few thousand years? A few billion? A lot can happen in that time.”

“Yes,” Dr. Myers agreed. “Planets can come into being, live and die in just a few billion years’ time. Our best estimates are that life itself may only last for a few hundred million years on a single planet, before it just gives out, or the planet is no longer hospitable for it. Even if they find the planet that birthed those asteroids, and it has managed to reconstruct itself—much like Earth did after the collision that created the Moon—they may still find a lifeless rock, after all that time.”

“Okay, suppose they find a planet that does have life,” Reya asked. “Is it likely to be hazardous?”

Dr. Myers raised his eyebrows. “Are you asking me if there will be great alien beasties waiting to devour them there?” He and Dr. Silver shared knowing looks. “This isn’t Brane Boy… the chances of that are astronomically slim. They could encounter some biological entities out there, but they would have evolved on a very different planet, with different biological and environmental imperatives than Earth. Most likely, they could not interact with human physiological systems, even if they wanted to. Isolation will have provided us with an immunity against most organisms. And on the other ends of the scale—sentient life or big, nasty beasties—well, Earth’s creatures and its civilizations have risen and fallen… in the case of civilizations, in a few hundred years’ time. The chances that we happen to get there during one of those astronomically tiny moments of another planet’s evolution are even slimmer.”

Julian nodded, taking it all in. “Do either of you have an opinion of the crew of the Makalu… whether they can make the best of what they find?”

Dr. Silver reviewed the crew list. “Well, they have Brooklyn Adams, Robert Morey and Arnold Guy aboard… Brooklyn may be the best geologist on the satellite, and Bob and Arnold aren’t slouches, either. On top of that, they have Valerie Epstein, one of our sharpest analysts, and Calvin Rios, one of the most well-rounded general scientists on Verdant. That’s a pretty good selection of scientists for such an expedition, if I ever saw one.”

“And we know Captain Grand’s crew,” Reya pointed out. “The Makalu’s an excellent ship, and it happens to be well-equipped to retrieve and study anything they find. I’d say we couldn’t have a better ship out there.”

“Is that fifteen day operations estimate reliable?” Dr. Silver asked. “Because if it is, they—”

She was interrupted by an urgent chime on the room’s intercom. Julian tapped the com and said, “This is Lenz.”

This is CnC,” came the voice on the com… Hera. “Sir, we have a situation: The signal probes are back from notifying the freighters. But one of them… the Lourdes… wasn’t on-station.


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